WASHINGTON (CN) – The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas has approved a European Union proposal to cut eastern bluefin tuna catch by 40 percent for 2010 from 19,500 tons to 13,500 tons, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service officials remain concerned about the long-term health of the fishery.
Dr. Rebecca Lent, director of the Office of International Affairs at NOAA’s Fisheries Service and the head of the U.S. delegation at ICCAT said, that she was disappointed that ICCAT did not take immediate measures to significantly reduce catch quotas for the 20120 season and noted that, “The United States sought a package of measures for eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna that would halt overfishing and provide for rebuilding by 2023 with a high probability of success. The science indicates that a total quota level of 8,000 metric tons or lower would have achieved that.”
To meet the approved catch reduction quotas, the ICCAT members agreed to reduce the purse seine fishing season to one month from May 15 to June 15 and not to allow season extensions for bad weather. A purse seine is a large fishing net that hangs vertically in the water by attaching floats along the top and weighted rings along the bottom edge that are connected to a cable to close the net.
ICCAT members also agreed to follow EU guidelines to reach 50 percent reduction by 2011. In addition, the commission also will retain the right to suspend the fishery in case new assessments show that it is in danger of collapse.
Despite the dramatic sounding numbers, the World Wildlife Fund maintains that even if tuna catch was reduced to 8,000 tons per season there would only be a 50 percent chance of maintaining and recovering the depleted Atlantic bluefin stock. The WWF believes that only a global ban on bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will save the fishery.
“Today’s outcome is entirely unscientific – and entirely unacceptable,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “Common sense says that a trade ban supported by a temporary fishing closure is currently what is needed for the recovery of Atlantic tuna,” Dr Tudela said. “To close the fishery is what ICCAT needed to do to save the tuna and to save its own reputation.”
The NOAA noted in a notice of proposed rule making in June that the ICCAT’s own scientific reports indicated that only between 14 percent and 57 percent of the necessary spawning age bluefin tuna stocks for maintaining the fishery were present in the Atlantic.